March 9, 2017

1948. The Isolation of West Berlin

The Blockade Intensifies After West Berlin Elections
Banner on the border of East and West Berlin reads: "Bis Hierher: Demokratie und Friedlicher aufbau. Jenseits: Diktatur, Kriegshetze, Zusammenbruch," ("Up to here: democracy and peaceful reconstruction. Over there: dictatorship, war-mongering, and ruin") (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

December 7, 1948

The word "democracy" is being defined in Berlin today.

Official reaction to Sunday's elections makes an interesting comparison of what the Soviet Union calls democracy and what the nations of the West mean by it.

The acting Russian military commandant for East Berlin, Colonel Yelisarov, issues a statement today in which he calls the elections "undemocratic and unfree." Yelisarov charges that there was mass intimidation and oppression through threats of German and non-German officials. He says that there were demonstrations of tanks, armored patrols, and troop units in the streets of Western Berlin. He further says that the results were falsified.

It hardly is worth the time to refute these charges, but for the sake of definition, it has been my personal observation that the only threatening in Sunday's voting came from the Communists, who even today threaten reprisals on elected Western officials. American armored patrols and police troops were on a standby basis in strategic parts of the city, but there was no patrolling in the streets. Western occupation troops were confined to barracks. Election returns might have been miscounted in some polling places, but there is no mistake that more than eighty percent of Western Berliners voted.

In recognizing the rump Eastern Berlin assembly which voted itself into power a week ago, the Soviet Union has, by contrast, vividly demonstrated what it means by democracy.

A minority of Communist-led Germans seized power, tried to conduct a purge, proclaimed—not elected—a government, and at this moment is setting up a minor police state.

The 86.7 percent vote in Western Berlin has been the most effective answer yet to what even a conquered people think of the tactics which brought Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, Hungary, and a number of other governments into the Russian orbit.

But the Russian propaganda line appearing today in further Communist disavowal of Sunday's voting shows that these free elections will have little effect on the powerhouse thinking of the East.

The job of objective reporting in this blockaded city is becoming more difficult every day that passes.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

December 8, 1948

The Russian-sponsored city government of East Berlin moved today to further isolate the blockaded Western part of the city, making the American, British, and French sectors virtually a foreign island inside the Russian zone.

East sector postal authorities announce that henceforth there would be no exchange of mail allowed between the Russian sector and the Western sector of the city; a move, incidentally, which infuriates the two and a half million blockaded Germans coming as it does just before Christmas. It means that the blockaded Germans will have direct outside communication only by mail carried over the airlift. They may get mail by having it addressed to the Eastern part of the city and then going there and picking it up—an increasingly risky business since the Soviet military government is issuing new identification cards and withdrawing recognition of those issued several years ago by all four occupying powers.

Additionally, the rump East Berlin magistrate announces that a new two-year economic plan for Berlin is being drawn up. It will provide for strict control of all industrial plants, raw materials, and manpower. There also will be controlled distribution of finished products.

The two-year plan also will provide for socialization of major industries, although the announced program will not socialize smaller plants and businesses. One of the major purposes of the new economic program for East Berlin will be to equalize the disproportionate holdings of former Nazis. Some property will be sold to victims of fascism, but most will be turned into the hands of the people.

Karl Maron, head of the rump government's economic section, in making the announcement made an ingenious admission of the effect of the Western Powers' counter-blockade of Eastern Germany.

"The Soviet zone is not a bed of roses," he said. "Therefore Berlin must give and take. Berlin must concentrate and mobilize its forces and reserves."

This means that the Eastern part of bisected Berlin will now be incorporated into the crippled economy of the Soviet zone of Germany—a proposition which will not serve to raise living standards in the divorced part of the city.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

December 10, 1948

The rump government of Eastern Berlin put another brick on the invisible wall separating the Russian sector from the blockaded Western part of the city.

Eastern policemen began stopping automobile traffic on streets connecting opposing sides of the city, permitting only those German cars to travel which have special permits from the Soviet military government. American, British, and French automobiles, however, were allowed through.

Enforcement of this intercity blockade is still another post-election move to further isolate the American, British, and French sectors, but the Eastern police have taken on a big job.

They will have to watch several thousand streets, and with the experienced and wily black marketeers, it will be virtually impossible to completely paralyze traffic between the two cities, like plugging a sieve with a box of matches.

For example, today a man stopped my secretary asking if she wanted to buy some brown coal from Poland. The price, incidentally, was exorbitant—about ten dollars a ton. But the marketeer had run the stuff through the blockade.

There is a similar situation in Christmas trees. As part of their anti-election propaganda, the Communist-led opposition promised that 350,000 trees would be brought into the Russian sector for distribution to all Berliners who would register in the East.

However, the other day I saw a pile of trees on sale on a corner near the CBS office here. I got one for about two dollars. The blockade runner said that he was lucky to get one truckful through the barriers and that he had lost one truck in the operation.

Beginning today, American military government officials are relaxing commissary restrictions to provide food for entertainment and holiday parties for children of all nationalities living in this blockaded city.

The American Berlin community is going to try to provide some kind of Christmas celebration for some 76,000 children. This is by no means all of them. Organizations and troop units have been working for weeks collecting food, refurbishing toys, and collecting clothing.

But more help is needed. There are more than nine million German children in American-governed Germany alone.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.